Monday, June 25, 2012

Ernie Fiebelkorn

6 feet 4 inches tall and 230 lbs. is awfully big for a fighter pilot, especially when you realize that those cockpits were designed for men no bigger than 5' 10" and 160 lbs, but Ernie Fieblekorn, (Feeb or Red to his friends) always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Accepted for the Aviation Cadet Program in 1942 he repeatedly turned down offers that would have put him in a bomber. He had skill though and raw talent that got him known as a "hot pilot". He graduated at the top of his class and was assigned in 1944 to the 20th Fighter Group in England. He did not have an auspicious start. Assigned first to the 79th Fighter Squandron, he was grounded several times and almost court marshaled for his antics. Supposedly one involved flying through a hanger. 

The 79th, did not want him anymore and his flying career would have been over except that the Commanding Officer of the 77th Squadron was looking for a hot pilot and felt that he could control Feeb's enthusiasm. It turned out to be the perfect match. Fiebelkorn took advantage of this final chance and settled down. He started racking up victories. On 8 Nov 1944 he and another pilot ganged up on Col. Walter Nowotny, a top Luftwaffe Ace with 258 victories. their P-51 Mustangs were outmatched by Nowotny's Me-262 jet, Feeb hit him high and Lt. Hayden hit him low. At the last minute, before landing Nowotny spun into the ground and was killed on impact. 20 days later, on a sweep over Germany, Feeb downed four German fighters on one mission, three Me-109's and one FW-190. Having completed 100 missions, destroying 11 enemy aircraft,  receipt of two Silver Stars and two Distinguished Service Crosses before his 22nd birthday, Feeb went home to Pontiac Michigan with his new wife for Christmas 1944. While home on leave, he learned of the death of his 19 year old brother during the Battle of the Bulge. His brother Roger, a Private in the 100th Infantry Division had been awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry. 

Feeb with ground crew, Sgts Tucker, Yanchitis, Trynosky 28 Nov 1944

He did not return to Europe but stayed in the US as an instructor pilot. After the war, Feeb stayed in the Air Force until 1947. Bored with routine duties he left in January. By the middle of the year he was miserable. A hot pilot on the ground is a sad sight to behold. In mid summer, he looked up one of his old ground crew, a bartender in NY's Astor hotel. Over a beer, he poured out his heart. Former Sgt. Trynosky listened and told him that few in this life have the chance to do what they want and the skills to keep doing it. By Sept. he was back in uniform at Mitchell Field L.I. 

The outbreak of the Korean war, June 25th 1950 found Feeb in Japan flying F-82 twin Mustangs in the 4th fighter Squadron. The North Korean invasion, backed by the Soviet Union and their superlative T-34 tank was  rolling over the US and South Korean forces. All available US assets went to Korea. On 6 July, 1950 Capt. Fiebelkorn led a four plane element on a hunt for North Korean tanks who were threatening an American unit. Unable to see through the overcast, he let his aircraft down to see if he could get below it. Nothing was heard from him again. Two years later the bodies of Capt. Fiebelkorn and his RIO were found in the wreckage of their F-82 on a mountainside about 40 miles north of Seoul. Captain Fiebelkorn, 27 years old, father of a three year old son, the hot pilot, became the first American pilot to die in the Korean War. He received another DFC for his actions that day and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. 

This post was originally prepared as part of the 2012 Memorial Day Presentation for BSA Troop 27 sponsored by St. Catharine's Church in Glen Rock, of the former Ridgewood-Glen Rock Council.